David Makovsky addresses the issue of “Israel’s Rush to ‘Apply Sovereignty’ ” in Judea and Samaria (to which he refers to as the West Bank, already presenting a problem) in an April 22 policy analysis published at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy web site. Makovsky is a distinguished fellow at the Institute and, among other titles, a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations (which puzzles me, as I’m not sure if that means the lifetime of Makovsky or of the Council).
In any case, an area of his research he has been engaged in during the past decade or so has been settlement geography and demography. His YouTube review of the subject unfortunately begins only in 1949, although he does mention, to his credit, that after 1967, Jews were engaged in part in resettling the land their parents lived on and developed.
But there is a problem in highlighting the year 1949 as the beginning, especially in a large graphic, and that is simply distorting the presentation, tainting it by ignoring the matter of whether Jews have rights to that territory, did the Arabs at all agree in the period of the Mandate of Palestine between 1920-1948 to permit Jews to live even in Tel Aviv and environs, and other themes that affect today’s question of sovereignty in those areas. He puts us on a left-foot start even if, towards the clip’s conclusion, he does raise the matter of doubts over whether the Arabs except Israel’s legitimate right to exist.
As part of this area of research, he created a web-based geographic database that provides users a reliable source to explore the resettlement activities of Jews in Judea and Samaria. The tool details the geographic delineation of resettlement activity. He calls it Imagining the Border.
Returning to his latest analysis, I find the following section problematic, and I quote it in full:
The idea of applying sovereignty has its origins in Menachem Begin’s December 1981 decision to unilaterally apply Israeli “law, jurisdiction, and administration” to the Golan Heights. In his public remarks at the time, Begin—always a stickler for legal distinctions—chose this formulation rather than “annexation” and pledged that it would not prohibit Israel from engaging in peace talks with Syria. In other words, applying sovereignty was reversible, while annexation was irreversible. To most observers inside and outside Israel, however, this sounds like a distinction without a difference.
This is not only problematic, but perverts history and law.
In the first place, Jordan was the illegal occupier of Judea and Samaria, and illegally annexed those areas in April 24, 1950—an act recognized only by Great Britain (and not even Pakistan). When the kings of Jordan, for example, transferred state land or Jewish-owned land to Arab ownership in Judea and Samaria, that activity was a war crime, certainly no less (and more) than for which Israel is castigated.
Without properly referencing this fact, Makovsky limits the ability of his readers to adopt an objective perspective on the issue. Settlements as an issue of contention has existed not since the 1993 Oslo Accords, the 1978 Autonomy Plan, or 1967 or even 1949. The fundamental position of the Arabs has been that Jews have no right to purchase land in Palestine or to plant any crops on it. Tel Aviv is a “settlement.” The first riots in Jerusalem in 1920 included this theme in the Arabs’ justification for killing Jews.
To return to Makovsky’s assertion, the issue of sovereignty did not originate in 1981 and certainly not with Menachem Begin, although he pushed for the Israel Defense Forces to enter Jerusalem’s Old City. On Dec. 13, 1949, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion extended Israel’s sovereignty to Jerusalem by declaring it the capital of the state, despite protest by the United Nations, as it still pushed for an international regime over the city. Throughout the years of 1948 and 1967, no Israeli government—and they were all led by Mapai, which viewed Begin as outside the pale—ever renounced a claim to sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
As Yael Ronen makes clear, the next stage involving sovereignty occurred on June 27, 1967, when the Knesset legislated Section 11B to the Law and Administration Ordinance. That amendment facilitated that “the law, jurisdiction and administration of the State shall extend to any area of Eretz Israel designated by the Government by decree.” As she continues, in fact the year 1981 and the issue of the Golan Heights has little to do with the matter of sovereignty.
Makovsky completely misses the point. Why is that?
At that time, that Section 11 could not provide a legal basis for extending Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights as that section relates to “any area of Eretz Israel.” Eretz-Israel meant the territory of the Palestine Mandate. The Golan Heights were not ever a part of the British Mandate in Palestine. For sure, they should have been, as Jews had resettled parts of that area of the historic Land of Israel. But in exchange for Mosul, the British yielded the Golan Heights to the French.
Begin’s principled stance was that a people do not annex its own homeland. Judea and Samaria are the heartland of the Jewish people’s geopolitical identity. Begin was not only a stickler for legal distinctions, but stood firm on the most basic and elementary rights of the Jewish nation: to security, independence and national rights.
One more point. To conclude, as Makovsky does, that “sovereignty was reversible, while annexation was irreversible,” displays a miscomprehension both of the legal framework of those terms of Menachem Begin’s intentions. The Golan Heights was always to be part of Israel, and Begin would not yield up that territory. It was a natural right for Jews to have it as part of its state historically, legally and because of its security value alone, it would not be transferred back to Syria.
Makovsky’s analysis, I fear, reveals not only a modicum of ignorance or a willful misrepresentation of history, diplomacy and law, but also the probability that he fits history and law to his outlook rather than the other way around.
Yisrael Medad is an American-born Israeli journalist and political commentator.